Tennessee is famous for phenomenal barbecue and a thriving music scene. It’s also home to an abundance of scenic lakes and outdoor recreation. Make your upcoming summer getaway unforgettable by booking a stay at one of many Tennessee vacation rentals situated near exciting events and festivities. From the Great Smoky Mountains to the rushing Mississippi River and everywhere in-between, here are the top cities to visit in Tennessee.
1. Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge is located in eastern Tennessee, along the Great Smoky Mountains. With temperatures between 60 to 90 degrees, it’s just warm enough to wear lightweight clothes without being too hot. First off, explore the Smoky Mountains National Park, which boasts miles of hiking trails, wildlife, and natural beauty. Start with a stop at the Sugarlands Visitor Center where you can learn about the local flora and fauna and pick up a map of all the hiking trails. Some beautiful hikes include the Baskins Creek Falls and Grotto Falls hikes. Afterwards, go tubing down Little Pigeon River along which the historic Old Mill still stands. If you really want to get into the local lifestyle, visit during Dollywood Barbeque and Bluegrass Festival that runs from late May to mid-June. Here you can indulge in some real Southern barbecue and soothing sounds. Grab a rental on or by the Greenway for easy access to hiking and biking trails.
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Lebanon, in north-central Tennessee, is just east from Nashville. While this town doesn’t boast any lakes or major rivers, it is just 20 minutes from Old Hickory Lake and Cumberland River. Stop at one of the many marinas — Cedar Creek, Gallatin, Creekwood, and Blue Turtle Bay — and rent a boat for the afternoon. However, what summer fun you absolutely need to be in Lebanon for during August is the Wilson County Fair. This nine-day event includes demolition derbies, live music and entertainment, livestock shows, the Fiddlers Grover Historic Village, and carnival rides. Opt for one of the vacation houses on the rural fringes of the town. It gives you plenty of peace and quiet while still being within an easy drive (in any direction) of entertainment.
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Kingston’s biggest summer draw is its location on the Watts Bar Lake in Roane County in eastern Tennessee. Get a vacation rental right on the lake, and spend long, lazy summer days swimming and kayaking. The entire county gets into the summer with fishing, fairs, and farmers markets. The Rockin’ the River Fishing Tournament and Roane County Bass Tournament both take place in May. If you’re not into that, there’s the annual Tennessee Medieval Faire on the weekends from mid-May through mid-June, which offers live entertainment, jousting, dancing, and ginormous turkey legs for snacking. Stock up on fresh produce and good local food at the Harriman Farmers Market on Wednesdays and Saturdays during the season.
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4. Union City
Union City is actually a town in the northwestern corner of the state, but what it lacks for in size, it makes up for in family-friendly fun. The nearby Blue Basin and Buck Basin lakes not only have plenty of lakeside vacation rentals, but there’s hiking and exploration in the attached Reelfoot State Park and National Wildlife Refuge. If you don’t get a lake house, there are plenty of places where you and the kids can hang out with water access such as the Reelfoot Lake greenway that runs partway along the shore. Union City is also home to the renowned Discovery Park of America, also known as the Mini-Smithsonian. This attraction includes the Discovery Center and 50 acres of grounds. The center boasts 10 exhibit galleries that range from a children’s exploration area to natural history to science and space technology. There’s an aquarium dedicated to local marine life, a 60-foot human body (with an attached slide for the kids), and dinosaur fossils. The grounds include a 19th-century village, a Children’s Discovery Garden, and walking trails.
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Maryville, west of Pigeon Forge, is another great option for vacationing among the Smoky Mountains. On one side of town is the national forest and on the other Fort Loudoun Lake, giving you several options for vacation rentals and outdoor fun; explore the lake with a boat from the Louisville Landing Marina or tour the Fort Loudoun State Historic Park, and then head to the mountains for a hiking along the Gold Mine Trail. Summer in June here also means Summer on Broadway, a slew of festivals ranging from the Big BBQ Bash to Hops in the Hills Craft Brew Festival. It all beings with a tractor parade, and offers a kid’s area, bungie jumping, and train rides.
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Summer is the ideal time to walk the Stones River National Battlefield in Murfreesboro. Not only is the site a spacious 570-acre park with walking trails and serene fields and forests, it’s also where one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War was fought. Introduce your children to a little history while enjoying the outdoors. There are even guided tours and reenactments. The reenactments or living history programs occur monthly throughout the summer. If you have time, head up to the Fall Creek Recreation Area, a park with water access to the J Percy Priest Reservoir.
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Chattanooga is located in the southeastern part of Tennessee on the Georgia border. This city combines urban entertainment with outdoor adventure for a vacation that the entire family can take part in. For instance, get a vacation rental along the western rolling hills and mountains which enables you to step out of your door into a hike every morning in the Prentice Cooper State Forest. Go boating and swimming in Chickamauga Lake and Harrison Bay, or take a dinner cruise down Chattanooga River. Explore the Moccasin Bend Archeological District, which just happens to be a stone’s throw from the downtown area where the Tennessee Aquarium and Creative Discovery Museum dwell. Head to Lookout Mountain for some excellent hiking, such as Ruby Falls, a great experience for kids of all ages. If you don’t want to hike, you can take the historic inclined railroad.
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Knoxville lies just north of Maryville and the Great Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee River. During the summer, this city’s Market Square comes alive with a farmer’s market, theater performances, and continuous events such as a Shakespeare festival that runs from mid-July to mid-August. Better yet, it’s a pedestrian-only area, so you can stroll at your leisure without worrying about the kids. Take a walk through the Charles Krutch Park with water features that the kids can splash around in during the mid-day heat, and then get some dinner at one of the restaurants lining the square. While exploring downtown, keep an eye at for Waldo. The Where’s Waldo Scavenger Hunt takes place in July in the downtown area. Every year, the Knoxville Botanical Garden and Arboretum puts on a dinner to celebrate the summer solstice, a great time to explore the gardens and walking paths. Another great way to enjoy nature is visit the Gentle barn, a place where kids can enjoy farm animals and learn about the planet.
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Nashville, in north-central Tennessee, is the state’s heart. Indulge in a country summer vacation with bluesy and country music acts at the Grand Ole Opry, or rock out at the CMA Music Festival, Jefferston St. Jazz & Blues Festival, or the Let Freedom Sing! Music City Festival that takes places in July. If you have kids, look for fossils in the Red Caboose Park, or explore the living history Cannonsburgh Village, which dates back to the early 1800s. The Cumberland River, Old Hickory Lake, and J Percy Priest Reservoir all lie within the city’s boundaries, so rent a kayak and explore, or indulge in some swimming.
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Memphis, located in the southwestern corner of the state, also has a rich musical culture. The Memphis Acoustic Guitar Festival, Memphis Juneteenth Urban Music Festival, Anthem International Music Festival, and Memphis Music and Heritage Festival all support this culture and run throughout the summer months, so you’re bound to be in town for at least one of them. Memphis also does some great food, such as Italian during its early-June Italian Festival or Memphis Eats Food Festival. Get a breath of fresh air with a vacation rental along McKellar Lake or by the Mississippi River. You can explore the water via ferryboat or go hiking at TO Fuller State Park.
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